Monday, December 03, 2007

Hanukkah Books

My Jewish friends tell me that Hanukkah is not one of the most important Jewish festivals. It's a minor holiday compared with Rosh Hashanna or Yom Kippor. According to Eric Kimmel, in his introduction to the anthology A Hanukkah Treasury:
"There is no special synagogue service for Hanukkah. The holiday is largely celebrated at home. And although Hanukkah certainly is a religious holiday, it is traditionally observed by playing children's games. Hanukkah is the only significant Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Bible. The original Hebrew texts related to Hanukkah have been lost. Nearly everything known about the Maccabees and their struggle against the Greek king Antiochus comes from a collection of writings called the Apocrypha and the works of a later Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus. The essence of Hanukkah is simple. It celebrates events that occurred more than two thousand years ago, when a tiny band of heroes, armed with little more than their faith in God, defeated a mighty empire and proved to the world that miracles truly happen to those with the courage to believe in them."

Perhaps because so many of us are celebrating a loud, raucous, overpowering Christmas it seems right to make a big splash with Hanukkah as well. Or perhaps we just like the lights and the story of miracles... in any case most schools try to balance the Christmas stories and decorations with equal measure of Hanukkah gelt.

In our library I like to include several anthologies of Jewish celebrations covering the whole calendar year in a wide variety of traditions. Several of ours were donated by families and they have made pleasant additions to our collection. Here are a few of my favorites:

A Hanukkah Treasury Edited by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Emily Lisker. Henry Hold and Co., 1998. It includes songs, poems, the story of the Maccabees told by Kimmel and selections from 1 Maccabees, stories about a Minorah in nineteenth century Easter Europe told by Howard Schwartz, stories about the blessings of potatoes, the story of how a Menorah came to be in the White House, how to make a menorah and a dreidel, and recipes for applesauce, latkas, donuts, cookies and gelt. My favorite story in this book, which I will read to the kindergarten and first grades, is Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown. It starts out like this: "In Alaska, in the winter, you have to watch out for moose." It ends, of course with a miracle and latkas.

Here's a haiku that is also included in the book:

Hanukkah Haiku
by Erica Silverman

Gray days, long dark nights;
but from our Hanukkah lamp-
light light light light light

The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays by Malka Drucker, illustrated by Nancy Patz. Little, Brown and Co. 1994. This volume starts with "Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Sweet Beginnings" and ends with "Shabbat: a Peaceful Island". Each section tells the historical story, the religious significance and the way the festival is kept. There are stories, poems, songs, crafts and recipes. The Hanukkah section includes the story Zlateh the Goat by Isaac Bashevis singer. Singer's story is set in a village of the old country and tells of a poor family selling their beloved goat to buy "Hanukkah candles, potatoes and oil for pancakes, gifts for the children, and other holiday necessities for the house." Aaron, the twelve year old son, is given the task of taking Zlateh to the butcher. When a terrible snowstorm strikes they are lost together in the blizzard for three days and Zlateh become a hero. Singer is a master storyteller and this one is not to miss. In the back of this anthology is a glossary, list of books for further reading and an index.

Jewish Holiday Crafts for Little Hands by Ruth Esrig Brinn, with Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. Kar-Ben Copies, inc., 1993. The author's introduction states it is "designed to help young children relate to, and feel part of each Jewish holiday or festival. Materials used are mostly notions and scrap items found around the house. Crystal, china, and construction paper do indeed complement each other!"For Hanukkah, as well as the menorah and dreidel projects there are a couple of gifts to make such as puppets, coupons with promises on them, a bookmark, games, wrapping paper and thank you cards. The directions are simple and clear and the illustrations very helpful. I think children would have a lot of fun working with this book and not need a tremendous lot of help from grown ups.

Jewish Holidays All Year Round; A Family Treasury written by Ilene Cooper, illustrations by Elivia Savadier. In association with The Jewish Museum, New York. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002. From the Forward:
"Welcome. Open this book and you open a door to The Jewish Museum, where we have hundreds of objects that people have used throughout the ages to celebrate Jewish holidays. In this museum art and artifacts are kept safe so that people can learn about the past and how Jewish holidays began many, many years ago. Laugh. Sing. Create. Dance. Celebrate. Reflect. Enjoy a wonderful journey through the Jewish year with your family, friends, and community."
The book starts out explaining the Jewish calendar, and then works through festivals and celebrations beginning with the Sabbath. The illustrations are done in pen and ink and family groups include both light and dark skin tones from Caucasian-looking people through Asian and Black. It's nice to see an image of a multi-generational family grouped around the challah where the hair goes from black and straight to blond and wavy or dark and tightly curled. There are also photographs of art and artifacts from The Jewish Museum in New York. The Hanukkah chapter has a variety of menorahs ranging from a "Miss Liberty" lamp made in 1974 in New Jersey to one from North Africa made in 1900 and one made in Russia in 1885. The dreidels are from Poland, 1700s and New York, 1993. In the back of this volume are a bibliography, list of books for further reading and an index.

All of these books are several years old. Do you have any more current favorite books you pull out for the this season?


Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Hey! My first haiku ever was a Hanukkah poem I wrote at age 9:

A menorah sits
on a bare white windowsill
with bright blazing light.

Mary Lee said...

I'm sorry if this is not in the spirit of your post, but THE LATKE THAT COULDN'T STOP SCREAMING by Lemony Snicket is both LOL funny AND it has a good message about what it's like to be on the outside looking in, holiday-wise, at this time of year.

Cloudscome said...

Alkelda that is a great haiku! And at the tender age of nine? Wow!

Mary Lee we could always use a laugh this time of year! Thanks for the suggestion.